Everyone has a socially awkward encounter once in a while, but some people have consistent trouble relaxing around others.
- To improve your social skills, remember to focus on the other person or try signing up for an improv class.
Everyone’s had a socially awkward experience or two.
You go to hug someone, but they’re trying to shake your hand, so you end up backslapping them from a foot away.
Your date asks whether you prefer vanilla or chocolate ice cream, and for some reason you end up telling them about the time you vomited after eating vanilla.
Chances are good that you’re not nearly as socially inept as you believe you are. But simply thinking of yourself as awkward can undermine your confidence in social situations.
We can’t promise you’ll never have another awkward encounter, but hopefully this advice will help you enjoy, instead of dread, social interactions.
Note that if social anxiety is interfering with your ability to function on a daily basis, you might consider seeing a therapist, who can give you more tools to overcome your nerves.
- Be patient
We’re so accustomed to mental and physical multitasking that we might not even realize how off-putting it can be to conversation partners.
“When you’re with someone, but you’re distracted by other thoughts or emotions, people notice,” writes Eva Glasrud. “Maybe your eyes glaze over, or your reactions are a little off or delayed. Or maybe you’re being superobvious about it and using a mobile device while ‘listening’ to them.”
Glasrud continues: “This makes people feel bad. Like they’re not important. Or like you’re not being authentic.”
The ability to focus on the here and now is a skill called mindfulness, which you can cultivate gradually through practices like focusing on your breath and the individual sensations you’re feeling in a given moment.
- Focus on the other person
“The best thing I ever learned to improve my social skills was to think of the other person/people instead of myself,” says Jennifer McGinnis. “Instead of worrying how I was ‘performing’ or coming across, I would think about the other person and how they seemed to be feeling or getting along.”
Chances are good that your conversation partner is feeling just as uncomfortable as you are and recognizing that could help you relax.
- Act “As if”
In other words, fake it till you make it.
Writes Daborah Crawford:
Act “as if” you have great social skills. What does that look like? Pretend you are the host of whatever gathering you are in and make someone feel welcome. Smile, make brief eye contact, and say hi.
Crawford is on to something. A growing body of research suggests that you can change your emotions simply by changing your behavior. For example, smiling can make you feel happier, and adopting a “power pose” can make you feel more confident.
- Team up with someone more socially skilled
“I have found that a good way to increase my social exposure is to make a few, close friendships with people who are inherently much more gregarious than I am,” writes Ankit Sathi.
“I accompany them to social events, they help to introduce me to new people and thereby give me a social ‘starting line of credit’ with these folks, because by virtue of association with the gregarious friend I don’t have to start from scratch with them I already have an implicit endorsement, of sorts.
“Another plus is that they can deal with the small talk much more easily, giving you the option to chime in whenever you have something substantial to say and stay quiet when you don’t.”
Eventually, you’ll feel OK talking to people on your own, without the support of your chatty pal.
- Ask questions
Don’t use every interaction as an opportunity to impose your values and beliefs on others. Consider how you can make the other person feel relaxed and give them space to express their thoughts and feelings.
“Instead of racing to insert your own point of view, ask questions,” says Karen Engdahl. “Don’t interrupt. Don’t feel compelled to fill silence with chatter.”